Shalom Hartman Institute summer program offers pluralistic Jewish study
By Stacey Dresner
WESTERN MASS. – After participating in a leadership program at the Shalom Hartman Institute in Israel last month, Susan Goldman said she is more convinced than ever that Jews should try to listen to each other even if they don’t agree.
“In our Jewish community now, there is a huge amount of conflict about postures on settlements, postures about the role of Orthodoxy in Israel,” Goldman said. “I came away from this program confirming my value in inclusiveness and pluralism in that sense.”
Goldman, president of the Jewish Federation of Western Mass., and her husband, Marc, were among 175 people attending, “1917, 1947, 1967: The Legacy of the Past and the Future of Modern Israel,” the Hartman Institute’s annual summer Community Leadership Program (CLP) for lay leaders from across North America.
More than 80 of those attending were from Massachusetts. One congregation, Temple Emmanuel in Newton, brought a contingent of 50.
The intensive week of “pluralistic, open-minded, intellectually rigorous Jewish study,” held from June 21–28, featured scholars including Rabbi Dr. Donniel Hartman, Yehuda Kurtzer, Rachel Korazim and Micah Goodman, who shared texts and ideas from the Jewish tradition on the program’s theme – which this summer was the ongoing impact of historical events in Israel.
Donniel Hartman, the Institute’s president and director of the educational and engagement program, iEngage, had served as a Jewish Federation-sponsored scholar-in-residence last November in Springfield and Northampton during a weekend honoring the Jewish Federation of Western Mass.’ 90th anniversary.
“After the Donniel Hartman scholar-in-residence program in November, I was very inspired to learn more with the Institute,” Goldman said.
The timing of the Community Leadership Program coincided with the Goldmans’ plans to travel to Israel for a wedding. They decided it was the perfect opportunity to study at the Shalom Hartman Institute, located in Jerusalem’s German Colony.
When they first arrived they were addressed by Donniel Hartman, who explained what they should expect from the program.
“It is a safe beit midrash — a place to feel safe and respected, reflected in the way you talk and listen… We challenge you to challenge yourself…[It is] a beit midrash with windows, not a cave to escape from life,” Hartman said.
The group studied intensively from early morning through evening, Goldman said.
“It was a lot of history, and how it impacts where we are today,” she recalled. “We talked about differing and sometimes conflicting narratives of Israel post ’67 with incredible thought leaders of the Jewish world.”
The sessions marked three anniversaries, each of which “has redefined what it means to be a Jew,” Donniel Hartman told the group — the 100-year anniversary of the Balfour Declaration; the 1947 UN Partition vote on Palestine; and the Six-Day War of 1967.
“It was looking at these significant times in history,” Goldman said. “What do we do about the competing narratives in the Zionist story? How do we see ourselves in the arc of history? We looked at these milestones of 1917, 1947 and 1967 and their significance in terms of the legacy of the past and the future of modern Israel.”
One day of the session was spent on day-long Tiyullim or excursion, which demonstrated different perspectives and narratives.
The Goldmans went to the Al-Ma’mala Foundation for Contemporary Art in Jerusalem, which offers artist-in-residency, outreach and education programs and exhibits Palestinian art and art by Israelis opposed to the “occupation.”
“Hartman sent us there to see this because it exists,” Goldman said. “You don’t have to agree, you don’t have to support them, but the point is this foundation exists and, to me, we as leaders need to understand that. It’s a different narrative.”
And that, she said, was the whole point.
“You may hear things you may not agree with; you may hear things that conflict with what your narrative is,” she said. “They said, ‘we want you to listen, we want you to grapple with these things.’”
The group also learned about New Spirit, a non-profit start-up trying to keep more young people in Jerusalem, which can be costly to live in, where there is a shortage of jobs and rental housing, and where the ultra-Orthodox flavor of the city – no public transportation and not many open businesses on Shabbat – may drive young secular Jews to other cities.
New Spirit assists with an internship program that hopefully leads to full-time jobs, and lobbies for the construction of cheaper housing. The group also encourages a burgeoning youth culture through cultural and social events, and by forming groups aimed at improving the city through work with the underprivileged or to save the environment.
“Within this New Spirit initiative, we met a Haredi woman who had been abandoned by her husband. She has become a social activist and is working on behalf of other women and their protection and rights,” Goldman said. “There was a young Palestinian guy working through Australian football…that’s his vehicle for uplifting the community – all of this coming through New Spirit.”
Goldman said she would like to convene group from the Western Mass. Jewish community to go to Israel to study at the Hartman Institute. She said she thinks that the kind of pluralistic study that the Institute offers may be a good way to engage the younger generation, who perhaps see diversity in a more positive light.
“I believe we have to look more carefully at what the younger generation here and in Israel are thinking,” she said. “The challenge is that our younger people who didn’t experience the Holocaust and these wars are not connected to it. So the biggest challenge is how do we engage people in connection with Israel?”
Besides the Federation’s work with Partnership2Gether program and offering “diverse trips that can reach a broader spectrum of economic ability,” Goldman said that listening and learning about other narratives concerning Israel and the Jewish community may be an important strategy when it comes to engaging young Jews.
“In our Jewish community we often don’t listen to each other and we close the doors to each other. And then we make an assumption that there is one narrative in the Jewish community. And there really isn’t.”
CAP: The Al-Ma’mala Foundation for Contemporary Art in Jerusalem.
Wonder at the Western Wall turns to disappointment
While in Israel last month, Susan Goldman personally experienced the struggle of women trying to pray as they wish to at the Western Wall.
While studying at the Hartman Institute, she met fellow participant Peachy Levy, 87, a Jewish philanthropist from Los Angeles. Levy, a supporter of Women of the Wall, introduced Goldman and others in the group to Anat Hoffman, director of the Israel Religious Action Center (IRAC), and a founder and the chair of Women of the Wall. Goldman and her group were invited by Hoffman to a Rosh Chodesh service at the Wall.
They travelled to the Kotel with Hoffman by minibus at 6:15 in the morning. “Eighteen of us went up to the wall and were joined by many others,” Goldman recalled. “The Torah had to be smuggled in in somebody’s pocketbook. It was a small Torah; they took the finials off. It was smuggled in because they confiscate them.”
Goldman marveled at the beauty of praying at the wall.
“We walked up to the wall and it was inspiring,” she said. “Though I am not so theologically-based – I am committed to its meaning, connection and entitlement of women to have access to prayer in this historically revered place. Peachy had an aliyah and it was wonderful.”
Not all of it was wonderful, though, as a group of teenaged Haredi girls in the Orthodox women’s section screamed and blew whistles, “trying to block out what was a very festive Rosh Chodesh service,” Goldman recalled.
That same evening, Goldman and her group were stunned when the Israeli government decided to freeze the plan that would have created an egalitarian prayer site at the wall.
“It was such a disappointment,” said Goldman. “There are these phenomenal women who, very simply, want the freedom to worship at the wall, that’s all.”